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Perimeters of Democracy

Inverse Utopias and the Wartime Social Landscape in the American West

Heather Fryer

Publication Year: 2010

During times of conflict, Americans have worried that enemies within would twist freedom of speech into a weapon of propaganda and use freedom of assembly to unleash violent internal chaos. As a result, the government isolated and confined within federal communities groups that they deemed dangerous. Within these so-called cultural structures of realistic democracy, the government awkwardly attempted to protect citizens while curbing their rights and freedoms. It is no accident that the government’s enclosed worlds were most numerous in the American West, where abundant open space has long symbolized the glory of American freedom and progress. Heather Fryer looks at four of these inverse utopias in the American West: the Klamath Indian reservation; the community of nuclear scientists in Los Alamos; the Japanese internment camp in Topaz, Utah; and the wartime company town of Vanport, Oregon. Each community stripped freedoms from Americans based on beliefs about the treacherous tendencies of minorities, workers, and radicals. Although the differences of experience among the four populations were considerable, they shared the marginalization, repression, displacement, and disillusionment with the federal government that flourished within the confined spaces of America’s inverse utopias. Nor was their experience theirs alone; it is instead part of a patterned, national, wartime dynamic that makes enemies of citizens while fighting to extend American freedom to every corner of the globe.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. v

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

This book got its start in a graduate seminar in urban history taught in 1997 by Marilynn Johnson, whose book The Second Gold Rush: Oakland and the East Bay during World War II lit up my historical imagination. War mobilization and the complicated social geography of the American West became instant fascinations. So too did the commonalities between ...

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Introduction: Discovering the Inverse-Utopian West

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pp. 1-33

Hard as it is to believe, there is a ghost town in the center of the Portland International Raceway. The foundations are vaguely discernible at the center of the track, and the stories are etched into the collective memory of lifelong Portlanders. For most, the details are vague: Vanport City (later shortened to “Vanport”) was one of the many ...

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1. Beware of Crafty Bandits: Enmification in the Empire for Liberty

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pp. 35-82

In his first fireside chat after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt prepared Americans to “face a long war against crafty and powerful bandits” because “the attack at Pearl Harbor can be repeated at any one of many points in both oceans and along both our coast lines and against all the rest of the Hemisphere.” ...

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2. The Great Citizenship Pantomime: Politics and Power in a Barbed-Wire Democracy

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pp. 83-125

In 1946 War Relocation Authority (WRA) officials took stock of their relocation program. The “cultural structure of realistic democracy” spawned a system of homegrown, self-contained political organs that functioned separately from the American body politic, in which fully enfranchised citizens enjoyed real political efficacy. Historian ...

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3. Cultivating Dependency: Economics and Education in America's Inverse Utopias

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pp. 126-170

“American freedom” rests on two pillars: citizen participation in the democratic process and economic independence, which includes equality of opportunity and upward mobility. This vision has been revered and re-embodied across time, from Thomas Jefferson’s image of the yeoman farmer to Frederick Jackson Turner’s intrepid frontiersman ...

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4. Tragic Ironies: Everyday Life in an Inverse Utopia

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pp. 171-212

During the 1913 commemoration of the Modoc War, Oliver Cromwell Applegate, speaking as former superintendent of the Klamath Reservation, lauded the unusually bright “race of fighters” who, after having “finally succumbed to the control of our race” became one of the wealthiest, most “advanced” tribal groups in the reservation system ...

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5. From Barbed Wire to Bootstraps: Freedom and Community in Cold War America

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pp. 213-249

In April 1944 Fortune magazine warned readers that “the ‘protective custody’ [of the Japanese] of 1942 and 1943 cannot end otherwise than in a kind of Indian reservation, to plague the conscience of Americans for many years to come.”1 The War Relocation Authority (WRA) had the same concerns; throughout the political tumult of the ...

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6. Termination of the Klamath Reservation: From Inverse Utopia to Indian Dystopia

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pp. 250-275

Americans everywhere celebrated the dawn of a new era of peace and prosperity in 1950. In contrast, many former Topazians, Vanporters, and Los Alamosans struggled to recover from a decade of displacement, stigmatization, and involuntary dependency on government agencies that left them abandoned and alienated. Washington’s zeal ...

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7. No Camps for Commies: The Dual Legacies of Dissonance and Dissidents

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pp. 276-312

In 1950, as federal bureaucrats and their former wards assessed the results of their inverse-utopian experiments, Senator Pat McCarran sounded a warning to the American people. In a speech reminiscent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s post–Pearl Harbor fireside chat about the threat from “crafty and powerful bandits” in Japan, McCarran ...


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pp. 313-350


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pp. 351-372


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pp. 373-398

E-ISBN-13: 9780803230392
E-ISBN-10: 0803230397
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803220331
Print-ISBN-10: 0803220332

Page Count: 432
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 664427150
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Perimeters of Democracy

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vanport (Or.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • West (U.S.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Government-controlled communities -- United States.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- United States.
  • Topaz (Utah) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Internal security -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Los Alamos (N.M.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
  • Klamath Indian Reservation (Or.) -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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